Daily Archives: September 17, 2017

17 September 1976

Enterprise rollout at Palmdale, California, 17 September 1976. (Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS)

17 September 1976. Enterprise (OV-101), the prototype Space Shuttle Orbital Vehicle, was rolled out at the Rockwell International plant at Palmdale, California.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 September 1959

X-15 56-6670 is carried under the right wing of NB-52A 52-003. Scott Crossfield is in the cockpit of the rocket plane.

17 September 1959: After previously making one glide flight, North American Aviation Chief Engineering Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield made the first powered flight of an X-15 hypersonic research rocket plane.

Carried aloft under the right wing of an eight-engine Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress bomber, USAF serial number 52-003, the first of three North American Aviation X-15s, 56-6670, was airdropped from 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) over Rosamond Dry Lake, 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Edwards Air Force Base. Launch time was 08:08:48.0 a.m., Pacific Daylight Savings Time (15:08.48.0 UTC).

Scott Crossfiled prepares for a flight in the North American Aviation X-15A
Scott Crossfield prepares for a flight in the North American Aviation X-15A. Crossfield is wearing a conformal (face seal) helmet with his David Clark Co. MC-2 full-pressure suit. (NASA/North American Aviation, Inc.)

The X-15 was designed to use the Reaction Motors XLR-99 rocket engine, but early in the test program that engine was not yet available so two smaller XLR-11 engines were used. This was engine the same type used in the earlier Bell X-1 rocket plane that first broke the sound barrier in 1948. Though producing just one-fourth the thrust of the XLR-99, it allowed the functional testing of the X-15 to proceed.

Scott Crossfield wrote:

     Two minutes after launch I reached 50,000 feet and pushed over in level flight. Then I dropped the nose slightly for a speed run, meanwhile maneuvering the ship through a series of turns and rolls, conscious of a deep rumbling noise of the rocket and a great rush of wind on the fuselage. It was obvious the black bird was in her element at supersonic speeds. She responded beautifully. I stared in fascination at the Mach meter which climbed from 1.5 Mach to 1.8 Mach and then effortlessly to my top speed for this flight of 2.3 Mach or about 1,500 miles and hour. Then, because I was under orders not to take the X-15 wide open, I shut off three of the rocket barrels. As I slowed down, I recalled the agony at Edwards many years before when we had worked for months pushing, calculating, polishing and who knows what else to achieve Mach 2 in the Skyrocket. Now with the X-15 we had reached that speed in three minutes on our first powered flight and I had to throttle back.

Always Another Dawn, The Story Of A Rocket Test Pilot, by A. Scott Crossfield with Clay Blair, Jr., The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1960. Chapter 39 at Pages 362.

The X-15 dropped 2,000 feet (610 meters) while Scott Crossfield ignited the two XLR-11 engines and then started “going uphill.” During the 224.3 seconds burn duration, the X-15 reached Mach 2.11 (1,393 miles per hour, 2,242 kilometers per hour) and climbed to 52,300 feet (15,941 meters), both slightly higher than planned.

Problems developed when the rocket engine’s turbo pump case failed, and fire broke out in the hydrogen peroxide compartment, engine compartment and in the ventral fin. Crossfield safely landed on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. The duration of the flight was 9 minutes, 11.1 seconds. Damage to the rocket plane was extensive but was quickly repaired. 56-6670 flew again 17 October 1959.

Chief Engineering Test Pilot A. Scott Crossfield climbs out of teh cockpt of a North American Aviation X-15A hypersonic research rocketplane. (Getty Images)
Chief Engineering Test Pilot A. Scott Crossfield climbs out of the cockpit of a North American Aviation X-15A hypersonic research rocketplane. (Getty Images)

Over the next nine years the three X-15s would make 199 flights, setting speed and altitude records nearly every time they flew, and expanding NASA’s understanding of flight in the hypersonic range. The first two X-15s, 56-6670 and 56-6671, survived the program. 670 is at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space museum and 671 is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield with X-15 56-6670 attached to the right wing pylon of NB-52A 52-003 at Edwards Air force Base. (North American Aviation Inc.)
Test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield with X-15 56-6670 attached to the right wing pylon of NB-52A 52-003 at Edwards Air force Base. (North American Aviation Inc.)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 September 1916

Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiher von Richtofen. (Portrait by C. J. von Dühren)
Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiher von Richtofen. (Portrait by C. J. von Dühren, 3 May 1917)
Morris
Lt. L. B. Morris

17 September 1916: At approximately 11:00 a.m., near Villers-Pouich, Nord, France, Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, of Jagdstaffel 2, Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches (the Luftstreitkräfte) while flying an Albatros D.II, serial number 491/16, shot down a British Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2B scout plane, serial number 7018, flown by Second Lieutenant Lionel Bertram Frank Morris, with Captain Tom Rees, as observer and gunner. Both officers were assigned from their original regiments to No. 11 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. Captain Rees was killed by the Baron’s machine guns. Lt. Morris was wounded but landed the crippled airplane near a German airfield. Von Richthofen landed his Albatross alongside, but Morris died while being taken to a field hospital by ambulance.

The body of Lieutenant Morris was buried at Porte-de-Paris Cemetrary, Cambrai, France. Captain Rees was buried at Villers-Plouich.

Morris and Rees flew this Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2B, serial number 7018, shown surrounded by enemy soldiers. (Unattributed)
Morris and Rees flew this Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2B, serial number 7018, shown surrounded by enemy soldiers. (Wikipedia)

Von Richthofen had just joined Jasta 2 after becoming a fighter pilot. Originally a cavalry officer, he had become an aerial observer before becoming a pilot. This action was his first confirmed aerial victory. 83 more would follow and he would become known as The Red Baron.

Captain Tom Rees
Lieutenant Tom Rees, 1915

The Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2 (also designated Fighter Mk.I) was designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. He made the first flight in the prototype at Farnborough, Hampshire, 18 August 1911. The F.E. 2b was a two-pace, single-engine pusher biplane used as a scout bomber. It was 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) long with a wingspan of 47 feet, 9 inches (14.554 meters) and height of 12 feet, 7½ inches (3.848 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,105 pounds (955 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,827 pounds (1,282 kilograms). The airplane’s three-bay wings had a chord of 5 feet, 6 inches (1.676 meters)  and were spaced 6 feet, 3½ inches (1.918 meters), vertically.

The F.E. 2b was powered by a water-cooled 13.937 liter (850.48 cubic inches) William Beardmore and Company inline six-cylinder engine rated at 120 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. It could produce a maximum 154 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. This engine was a license-built Austro-Daimler 6, which had been designed by Dr.-Ing. Ferdinand Porsche.

The airplane had a maximum speed of 73 miles per hour (117 kilometers per hour) at 6,500 feet, 72 miles per hour (116 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The airplane could reach 6,500 feet (1,981 meters) in 19.5 minutes, and 10,000 feet in 45.5 minutes. Its service ceiling was 9,000 feet (2,743 meters).

The F.E. 2b had fuel to remain airborne for 3½ hours.

Boulton & Paul Ltd.-built F.E. 2B A5478 (Aviation News)
Boulton & Paul Ltd.-built F.E. 2B A5478 (Aviation News)

The F.E. 2b was armed with one or two .303-caliber Lewis guns. The second gun was mounted on a telescoping post between the cockpits, and in the raised position could fire over the upper wing to defend the airplane from attacks in the rear. This required the gunner to stand in his seat. and could carry a maximum 517 pounds (235 kilograms) of bombs.

A total of 1,939 F.E.s were built.

An Albatros D.II, similar to that flown by Manfred von Richthofen, 17 September 1916.
An Albatros D.II, similar to that flown by Manfred von Richthofen, 17 September 1916.

The Albatros D.II was a single-place, single-engine biplane fighter designed and built by Albatros Flugzeugwerk GmbH, Johannisthal, Berlin. It was also built under license by Luft-Verkhers-Gesellschaft and Oesterreichische Flugzeugfabrik AG. It was 7.40 meters (24 feet, 3-1/3 inches) long with a wingspan of 8.50 meters (27 feet, 10-2/3 inches) and height of 2.59 meters (8 feet, 6 inches). It had an empty weight of 637 kilograms (1,404 pounds) and gross weight of 888 kilograms (1,958 pounds).

The D.II was powered by a water- and air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 14.778 liter (901.68 cubic inches) Mercedes F1466 (D.III) single-overhead cam inline six-cylinder direct-drive engine with a compression ration of 4.50:1, which produced 162.5 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. The engine weighed 618 pounds ( kilograms).

The Albatros D.II had a maximum speed of 175 kilometers per hour (109 miles per hour) and a service ceiling of 5,180 meters (16,995 feet).

The fighter was armed with two fixed air-cooled 7.92 mm machine guns.

A total of 291 Albatros D.II fighters were built before production shifted to the D.III.

Manfred von Richtofen with an Albatross D.II. (Unattributed)
Manfred von Richtofen with an Albatross D.II. (Unattributed)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 September 1908

Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge (Robert B. Williams)

17 September 1908: Orville Wright brought his Wright Flyer to Fort Myer, Virginia to demonstrate it to the U.S. Army Signal Corps.  A crowd of approximately 2,500 spectators had gathered to watch the flight.

Lieutenant Thomas Etholen Selfridge, U.S. Army Signal Corps, wanted to ride along with Wright and asked to go first. Lieutenant George Sweet, U.S. Navy was scheduled for the first flight, but he and Wright agreed to let Lieutenant Selfridge go. The two men aboard the Wright Flyer made four circuits of the field approximately 150 feet above the ground. The starboard propeller broke and struck the guy wires supporting the rudder. As the rudder rotated sideways, it caused the airplane to pitch nose down.

Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge and Orville Wright aboard the Wright Flyer. (U.S. Air Force)

Orville Wright later described the accident:

“On the fourth round, everything seemingly working much better and smoother than any former flight, I started on a larger circuit with less abrupt turns. It was on the very first slow turn that the trouble began. . . A hurried glance behind revealed nothing wrong, but I decided to shut off the power and descend as soon as the machine could be faced in a direction where a landing could be made. This decision was hardly reached, in fact I suppose it was not over two or three seconds from the time the first taps were heard, until two big thumps, which gave the machine a terrible shaking, showed that something had broken. . . The machine suddenly turned to the right and I immediately shut off the power. Quick as a flash, the machine turned down in front and started straight for the ground. Our course for 50 feet was within a very few degrees of the perpendicular. Lt. Selfridge up to this time had not uttered a word, though he took a hasty glance behind when the propeller broke and turned once or twice to look into my face, evidently to see what I thought of the situation. But when the machine turned head first for the ground, he exclaimed ‘Oh! Oh!’ in an almost inaudible voice.”

The wreck of the Wright Flyer, Fort Myer, Virginia, 17 September 1908. (Library of Congress)

The Wright Flyer struck the ground and both men were seriously injured. Thomas Selfridge suffered a fractured skull. He underwent neurosurgery but died without regaining consciousness. Orville Wright had a broken leg, several broken ribs and an injured hip. He spent seven weeks in the Army hospital.

This was the first fatal accident involving an airplane. Lieutenant Thomas Etholen Selfridge was the first person to die in an airplane accident.

Doctors attend to the unconscious Lieutenant Selfridge following the crash of the Wright Flyer at Fort Myer, Virginia, 17 September 1908. He died later that day. (Library of Congress)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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